The apostle Paul couldn't write about theology without meddling in the lives of his readers. In his letter to the church at Rome, he wrote about sin, law, grace, and election, and then spelled out the connections to obeying government authority and relating to believers whose weak consciences compelled them to observe dietary laws. In Colossians, he waxed poetic about the cosmic supremacy of Christ and then informed his readers what that meant for relationships between husbands and wives, children and parents, and slaves and masters.
Every good theology spills over into ethics, and the Cape Town Commitment is no exception. The first part of this document, released near the end of Lausanne's Cape Town 2010, spelled out a narrative and missional theology of world evangelization framed in the language of love (my analysis of the document's first part appeared in the December 2010 issue of Christianity Today).
The document's second part applies the love theme to the practice of ministry and mission. This ethical epilogue, promised for November, was finally released today and runs more than 40 percent longer than the first part.
Love, which is an unusual way to frame systematic theology, has been the central theme of Christian ethics since Jesus summarized the law as love for God and love for neighbor (Matt. 22:3739). Indeed, the Cape Town Commitment is a commentary on these verses: it is an exposition of love for God followed by an application of love for neighbor.
When Theology Spills into Ethics
The ethical issues in Part II are organized around the themes of the conference. Organizers selected those themes because they are truly global issues that a global church needs to wrestle with. Because North American evangelicalism represents only one-tenth of global evangelicalism, our hot-button issues are dealt with more briefly than those that plague the larger church.
Thus HIV/AIDS is featured prominently in four out of the nine paragraphs the document devotes to disordered sexuality, while there is no mention of abortion (curious, since abortion is a serious problem outside North America, especially in countries where it is used to prevent the birth of baby girls). Similarly, homosexuality, which dominates North American church discourse, gets one 50-word clause, while wife beating (a problem in North America, but not a matter of debate) garners 51 words.
The 1974 Lausanne Covenant was memorable for its affirmation of sociopolitical involvement as a necessary expression of Christian belief and an integral part of mission. But social justice and political issues do not dominate the ethical section of the Cape Town Commitment. Such issues are there: political corruption, ethnic conflict, slavery, poverty, human trafficking, and creation care, among others. However, missional and pastoral issues dominate: greed and corruption in the church, the prosperity gospel, interfaith dialogue, insider movements and fears of syncretism, witness to immigrant groups, Bible translation for unreached peoples, the particular needs of oral cultures, and the training needs of future leaders.
Four Interesting Issues
Several specific topics are worth noting.
First, corruption in church leadership. Corruption and greed are issues especially where the church is growing rapidly and new leaders cannot be developed fast enough to meet the needs. As a result, immature leaders with charismatic personalities abound. "Many use their positions for worldly power, arrogant status or personal enrichment," the document's authors complain. "As a result, God's people suffer, Christ is dishonoured, and gospel mission is undermined."